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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6062

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (1:11 PM) —As foreshadowed, I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Bio-ethicist Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filipini's submission presented the Senate Inquiry into the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 with a list of over 100 articles in major peer-reviewed journals that demonstrate treatments using a patient's own stem cells, which are not ethically contentious at all.

He challenged the pro-embryonic stem cells advocates to produce a similar list.

The facts are that treatments using a patient's own stem cells have been achieved for many diseases. In contrast, treatments of disease using embryonic stem cells are just speculation with no track record, even though stem cell research is now several years old.

It is ludicrous to be claiming the development of treatments using embryonic stem cells as a reason for passing a Bill allowing human embryonic experimentation. There absolutely no need to pass this legislation at this time.

And rejecting this Bill will not stop embryo stem cell research as existing stem cell lines are still available for research, which destroys the argument that Australia will fall behind in medical research in this area.

This point of inappropriate timing was clearly made to the Senate Inquiry by Professor Good, director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. He said:

If we were to come back here. in 10 or 20 years time and we were saying, `We've done all the animal experimentation, we've done all the adult stem cell work and we've done more and more research on animal models of embryonic stem cells. The adult stem cells don't work in people. We can't position or activate the endogenous stem cells. The embryonic stem cells are working in mice. Why don't we try them?' you would have to then look at that situation at that point in that 20 or 30 years you can do the vast majority of what you are talking about in animal models and with adult stem cells. I am saying that we have not got the answers to these fundamental questions of the alternatives in place yet. To date, there is not one single therapy using embryonic stem cells which is successful. There are successful therapies with adult stem cells.

Such comments also raise questions about how we build good public policy. Much of this debate in the Parliament and the media has focused on the personal suffering of people who have diseases and conditions that are incurable at the moments, and speculation about what embryonic stem cell research may be able to do to assist. I believe it is important that the reality of people's lives be taken into account when developing policy. But it is unacceptable to use people's misfortune as a tool to push through policy that is nowhere near ready to be of benefit to those people.

In the time I have left I would like to focus on several other concerns I have in this whole affair.

First, the commercialisation of embryonic stem cell research. It is not outside the realms of the possible to suggest the reason that Australia has been rushed to have ESCR legislation in place is because of the embryo stockpile we have in this country.

Once we have removed the humanity of this stockpile we are left with a commodity—and a profitable resource at that.

It was put to the Senate Inquiry that the poor scientific evidence for ESCR could be put down to commercial interests. At the inquiry Professor Peter Silburn, spokesperson for Scientific Committee of Parkinson's Australia and Princess Alexandra Hospital, made a distinction between scientific evidence and commercial lobbying. He said:

With scientific evidence you should just keep to the, facts—published facts which have been peer reviewed and accepted. The lobbying that I have picked up ... is basically generated very much I think from an embryonic stem cell group. ... I think that if you are going to look at scientific evidence and be given information, somewhere along the line somebody should have raised the alarm bells and said, `Well, that's one story; what's the other story?' Somewhere along the line the balanced information should have been given.

As I highlighted earlier, the way the embryonic stem cell research group have conducted themselves to date is very concerning. If information is unbalanced and selective, with favourable stories being played up and negative data downplayed now, what sort of commercial enterprises will be run if these groups do get there hands on the embryo stockpile.

Commercialisation will not speed up common scientific knowledge in the area of stem cells research. In recent years we have seen the issues of medical patents, intellectual property rights and the need to protect one's investments as reasons for denying medicines and medical breakthroughs to the world's poor. If we again let commercialisation be the driver in this area of research, we are only setting ourselves up for more winners and losers, depending on the size of your wallet.

Another issue I want to address is the potential exploitation of women if this bill is passed. Women's groups as diverse as The Australian feminist group, FINRRAGE, and the Catholic Women's League raised concerns about the invasive technology and women's rights.

One concern was that, because of the number of eggs required, any clinical application of this practice would essentially be exploitative of women, with the risk that various women may be coerced in some way to provide their eggs. Another concern was the health impacts of using super-ovulatory drugs, particularly if there is an increased use of drugs in the future to meet a growing demand for eggs.

Feminist writers have begun to raise concerns about this potential exploitation of women. Australian ethicist, Dr Denise Cooper Clarke, opines:

There is a real danger of the commodification of women's bodies, with (poor) women being paid to undergo super-ovulatory drug treatment so that many eggs can be harvested from them (a procedure not without risk, and which has been likened to the farming of human hens), or to act as gestational mothers. Another group of potential egg donors could be women in IVF programs whose consent to donation may be subtly coerced as a condition of continuing in the program.

FINRRAGE's submission went on to highlight that the ESC scientific process dehumanises women, dismembering their body into parts to be recombined at will—ova from one woman and a uterus from another, with documented adverse effects from fertility drugs. They wrote:

“The language of IVF researchers implies that researchers see women as experimental test sites. Women are described by researchers as `endocrinological environments', `therapeutic modalities', `egg crops' and `alternative reproductive vehicles'.”

I would have to say that if FINRRAGE is concerned about those labels, then I'm sure terms used by embryonic stem cells companies such as `competitive advantage' and `first to market' will only further fuel that concern.